Follow the link for The literary structure of Luke 17 20-37
In our Scripture today Jesus teaches us about his second coming. It’s the most Jesus talks about his return, apart from the Olivet discourse, which in Luke’s gospel is found in chapter 21. So, there’s a lot of information here. (Some of this material is also found in Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24).
I want us to go through this today, so that we can learn more about Jesus’ return, and also so that we can be challenged and encouraged to be prepared for it.
Looking for Jesus’ coming – vs. 22-25
As we work our way through the first few verses, notice that there is a “looking” or “seeing” theme throughout. First of all, the disciples will look for Jesus to return.
v. 22 – “And he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.’”
The reason they will “desire to see” Jesus come back, is that things will get hard for them. They will be persecuted for following Jesus. Life will be hard. And they look to Jesus’ return because he will give them relief. This will be the time when evildoers are judged and followers of Jesus will be blessed with peace and life eternal in his presence.
And yet, Jesus says, they will look but he won’t come. Jesus indicates here that his coming could take some time. As Christians, we will go through many difficulties, without relief from Jesus’ return.
Next he tells us that false prophets will say, “Look, here he is!”
v. 23 – “And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.”
Given the hard times the disciples will go through and their longing for Jesus to return, there will be the temptation to fall for false claims of his return. The false prophets will point to where they think Jesus has returned, or who he might be. But Jesus warns them, and us, ahead of time not to allow our desperation to lead us astray so that we follow after them.
He then tells them that his coming will not be some secret affair that only a few know of so that someone could even say, ‘Hey, come look, he’s over here!’ Jesus will be seen by all when he comes.
v. 24 – “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.”
Jesus’ coming will be a worldwide public event. It will be like lightning that shoots across the sky. It will be impossible to miss.
v. 25 – “But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
This section ends with a reminder that Jesus has to suffer before he comes to his day of glory. This echoes v. 22, where his followers will go through hardship before we find vindication.
This brings us to the next section –
The three-fold pattern of Jesus’ coming – vs. 26-30
Here, Jesus begins to make some comparisons between his coming – and Noah’s flood on the one hand, and the destruction of Sodom on the other.
First, the days of Noah.
vs. 26-27 – “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”
The people in the days of Noah were unprepared. They were going about their normal lives, eating and drinking, unaware of any danger. But then “Noah entered the ark,” and afterwards judgment fell upon them all. Notice the three parts: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Noah; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.
And then we have the days of Lot.
vs. 28-30 – “Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot – they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”
The citizens of Sodom were going about their normal routines unaware of the danger of the coming judgment. But when Lot left Sodom, the judgment came and killed all of them. Again, the same three-fold pattern emerges: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Lot; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.
Jesus says twice in these verses, “As it was . . . so will it be. His point is that the sequence of Noah, Lot and the Son of Man is the same. So we learn from this that when Jesus returns:
1. People will be going about their normal life unaware of what is about to happen; clueless and unprepared.
2. The righteous will be removed, just as Noah and Lot were.
3. And then the judgment will come and destroy all the rest.
The remaining teaching in this passage focuses in on step #2, the removal of the righteous. And first of all Jesus calls us to –
Be prepared to leave! – vs. 31-33
vs. 31-32 – “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.”
These verses draw further on the story of Lot in Genesis 19. Jesus is saying that when the righteous are taken it will be like when Lot came out of Sodom.
God sent angels to rescue Lot, but he was reluctant to leave his house. The angels practically had to drag him and his family out of the city. In the same way v. 31 pictures someone who is attached to their possessions when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about scooping up the belongings in their house. They can’t leave their earthly life behind, just as Lot was hesitant to leave his life in Sodom.
Also, when they were outside of the city the angels told Lot and his family they were not to look back. And when Lot’s wife did look back, she was judged by being turned into a pillar of salt. So v. 32 pictures someone who is attached to their earthly life when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about looking back from the field, because the want to preserve their earthly life. Jesus tells them not to look back. Rather they are to remember Lots’ wife, who longingly looked back to her life in Sodom and was judged. (The example of Sodom, a wealthy city, fits well the theme here of undue care for possessions and one’s earthly life).
If before, in v. 23 Jesus said, “do not go out or follow them,” that is the false prophets, here we are to drop everything and go to Jesus when the angels come for us. (For references to angels as the gatherers on the day of resurrection: Matthew 24:31; 13:39).
In v. 33 Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”
This is a warning. Don’t be attached to your earthly life! That is, to your family, friends, job, possessions, status and earthly plans.
- If you cling to your earthly life on the day of gathering, seeking to preserve it, you will lose it, just like Lot’s wife.
- But, if you let go of it all, your possessions, your projects and your earthly dreams; that is, if you lose your life – then you will keep your life; life in the kingdom of God forever.
And the way to prepare is to already now die to your earthly life by putting God first and sacrificing whatever God wants you to sacrifice now. Then you will be ready, and not hesitant on the day of resurrection, when the angels come for you.
This brings us to the final section, which give a bit more detail about –
What will happen when the righteous are taken – vs. 34-37
vs. 34-35 – “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding (meal) together. One will be taken and the other left.”
When Jesus talks about being “taken” he is, again, speaking of the exit of the righteous, or stage two of his coming; the resurrection. When he talks about being “left” he is talking about being left to be judged.
Notice the separation that will take place between, no doubt, family members, friends and coworkers. One is taken to be saved, the other is left to be judged.
v. 37 – “And they said to him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’”
The disciples are asking the question, ‘Where the righteous will be taken?’ Jesus gives a cryptic and somewhat gruesome answer.
What he is saying is that just like vultures are up in the sky over what is dead on the earth, so by means of the resurrection, the righteous will be up in the sky over those destroyed in the judgment. (See as well 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Also notice that this saying in Matthew 24:28 comes right after the reference to Jesus being in the sky, v. 27).
This is in accord with Isaiah 66:24 which says of the righteous on the final day, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me.” We will be in the sky, looking upon the results of the judgment.
- This matches what happened at the time of the flood. Noah was lifted up above those who drowned in the waters below.
- This also matches what happened when God destroyed Sodom, for Genesis 19:28 says, Abraham “looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.”
Now, there’s a lot in this passage, but let’s end with –
Five key points
1. When times are hard as we wait for Jesus, we need to be careful of false teachers who promise us relief by telling us that Jesus has, in fact, already returned.
2. We have to remember that when Jesus comes everyone will know, not just a few. It is a can’t miss occurrence.
3. There is a three-fold pattern connected to Jesus’ coming: Things will be normal and people will be unaware. The righteous will be removed, then the rest will be judged.
4. Judgment is real! We don’t like to talk about this, but it is clearly here. It is patterned on what happened in the flood and the destruction of Sodom. As Jesus said of these, God’s judgment “destroyed them all.” And so it will be on the final day. It will be truly horrible! It will be a time of reckoning for rebellion and evil. This is not something you want to be a part of.
5. We need to be prepared by choosing now to die to our earthly lives, and live completely for God.
I end with the simple question – Are you ready??
Christians are you dead to your earthly life? Are you ready to drop everything and go to Jesus when he returns? Or are you busy pursuing your earthly life and enjoying it – looking for more wealth, possessions, a bigger house and clinging to these?
If you aren’t yet a Christian, are you willing to receive the salvation that Jesus brings so that you can be a part of the great gathering of the righteous on the final day?